Friday, May 30, 2008

Doubting Thomas

I read John chapter 20 today. I think it may be one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture. We've heard the Resurrection story before, but I love how John records it. Seeing that he actually walked through every step, there is a very personal feel to his account.
Mary Magdalene goes to the grave while it is still dark outside. She couldn't sleep. She couldn't rest. Her soul was filled with the grief of losing the one man who loved her for who she was and not for his own personal gain. As she comes to the grave, however, the stone is rolled away. Without examining it any closer, she runs through the dark to where the disciples are staying. Her pounding wakes them up and she screams into the room,
"They have taken Him! He's not there!"
At this point the sun is just beginning to rise and John, "The Disciple Jesus Loved," immediately takes off through the door past Mary, followed by Peter. These are the two who were on the inside circle. Jesus' best friends. Their very lives had been transformed by this man.
Have you ever run towards something with dread in your heart? Have you ever seen a loved one injured and ran to them? Have you ever gotten bad news and had to drive a long distance to get to those you love? You understand the feeling of not being able to move fast enough, but your fear is the very thing that pushes your feet.
John beats Peter to the tomb, but freezes. He's not ready to accept whatever is in the open grave, but Peter plows on ahead. (Peter always was the one to plow into every situation. Cutting off ears, Rebuking Jesus, Trying to present good ideas that Jesus had to shoot down...)
Peter finds the grave clothes folded neatly and John peers in to see the sight. They leave bewildered.
Mary remains sobbing at the grave.
Moments later, after Peter and John, arrive back at the disciples' house, however, Mary bursts into the room. 
"He's there! I've seen Him! I have seen the Lord!"
The disciples stare at her with their mouths half open not sure whether to believe her or to call for help.
They hesitantly say, "That's great, Mary," and look at each other with eyes full of confusion, hope, grief, and anxiety. What is happening?

We know that Jesus later appears to the disciples, and tells them that He is sending them to do a great work. I can only imagine how hard they sobbed as Jesus tried to convey the importance of their mission. Mary rejoices that her friends have seen Him as well, and they laugh and cry together. Jesus is alive!

However, there is one that still has yet to see Jesus. Thomas.

Thomas is out taking care of business when the disciples tearfully experience Jesus' appearance. When we read this passage, we shake our heads at Thomas, and the poor guy gets the title "Doubting Thomas" for the rest of human history. But my heart breaks for Thomas. I understand him.
Thomas comes in and hangs his coat up on the rack and is immediately thrown into a corner by the disciples. All of them are talking at once. Peter is screaming, "Thomas! Mary was right!" James is sobbing and holding onto Thomas' shoulders. Andrew is trying to describe that Jesus is sending them on a mission. "We have a responsibility! We need to get started Thomas!" Matthew, has his hand on Thomas right shoulder with his other in the air, "Jesus lives! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!"

Finally Thomas screams "Enough!" and breaks through the group, stumbling to get free. Thomas' mind is racing with a thousand theories as to what is going on. His mind is filled with thoughts that would later be turned into books and sold in stores to refute the resurrection. "My friends are under too much stress to realize what is going. They are imagining things. They are wanting me to join in on some conspiracy."
However, his heart is full of hope. He longs to see Jesus. His heart aches to be able to rejoice with them. You see, while they have been sitting together in the house mourning and allowing the truth to sink in, he has been running errands. It has hurt too much for him to stop and think about Jesus being gone. He can't handle the pain, and now they want Him to rejoice?
I can see the tears collect in his eyes, perhaps for the first time since Jesus' death. He can't hold it in anymore. He's trembling, and he's talking through grit teeth.
"Look," he says with a shaky voice, "Unless I see the holes in his flesh where the nails were rammed through. Unless I see the hole in his side where they ran a spear through his rib cage, I will not believe. In case you forgot, Jesus was brutally tortured then murdered. We could not even recognize the man, because he was so beaten. Boys, I can't do this. It hurts to much to lose him once. I can't handle this false hope! Because you know what, you all are going to wake up in the morning after this little rush of excitement and realize the MAN IS STILL DEAD! And then it will hurt even worse than if you simply accepted it now. No...I will not believe."

A week passes. Thomas withdraws even deeper into himself. He hates the Romans for killing Jesus. He hates the Jews for accusing Jesus. He hates his friends for being so weak-minded. And his anger begins to boil at Jesus, Himself.
"How could he tell us that He is a Messiah. Why didn't He save Himself?"

As the disciples sit in the awkward silence that has plagued them for the pass week, the moment is broken with a gasp from John. He's looking past all of them just over their heads. The disciples lean in, "John?" and they turn to see where he is looking.

There stands Jesus.

The disciples begin to weep all over again, and Jesus walks forward. They part and let Him walk through, until Jesus is standing facing Thomas, who has his face down to the ground and is weeping uncontrollably. Jesus picks up Thomas' hand and lets him feel the wounds in his hands and side.

"Stop doubting and believe."

Thomas says to Him, "My Lord and my God!"

Then Jesus tells him, "Because you have seen Me, you have believed; but blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

I love this. I love how the Bible writers don't shy away from the fact that this is crazy stuff. This is hard to swallow. John says several times that he is writing this, so we can believe. I love that Thomas had eyewitnesses screaming in his face, and he still didn't believe. I love that it is understood: belief is hard. But blessed are those who believe and have not seen.

I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.

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